Downtown-ish Grand Rapids could finally get a “real” grocery store sometime in the future, if plans from Meijer Inc. and Rockford Construction Co. Inc. come to fruition.
But, borrowing a line from Donald Rumsfeld, there are many “unknown unknowns” about the plans for the west side neighborhood store, even several weeks out from the initial announcement. In particular, neither Rockford nor Meijer would comment on the size of the proposed store or offer a timeline for its completion.
Still, in outlining vague plans for the store, the partners unleashed an understandable outpouring of excitement as residents, urban planners and other stakeholders have long called for full-service grocery options in or near the city’s central business district.
As a hometown grocer in the midst of a growth spurt, Meijer served as an obvious player to make the jump from its familiar suburban big-box stores to building a smaller — and presumably riskier — urban-format grocery location.
But the proposed store at Bridge Street and Seward Avenue was also met with resistance.
For some stakeholders, Meijer’s choice of location about a mile from downtown was too far from the city center to fulfill what they perceive to be a need for a “downtown” grocery store.
Additionally, the proposed site is about two blocks from an existing full-service Duthler’s Family Foods grocery store on Bridge Street, leading some to opine that Meijer would drive the long-standing neighborhood store out of business.
Then there’s the question of how the partners will finance the project.
According to the joint statement from the two companies, “the development will be seeking additional tenant partners, available funding incentives and more in the coming year.”
The nature of those “funding incentives” remains one of the unknowns in the development, particularly as the Michigan Economic Development Corp. has said it views Grand Rapids as a healthy market that can stand on its own. The agency told MiBiz recently that it plans to pivot its focus to cities where incentives are more needed to spur development.
A mixed-use development with a neighborhood grocery store would presumably be a boon for the already burgeoning West Side area, but it might very well face an uphill battle if it requires state incentives to go forward.
Putting out an advance statement to drum up public support probably doesn’t hurt the cause, though.
While the refrain that “there are no further details to add at this time” is common during the ramp-up for multi-faceted commercial developments, what’s uncommon is that Rockford and Meijer would announce a project without being ready to discuss basic details.
Since Rockford and Meijer declined to offer any additional comment for this report, it looks like our known knowns will be the only knowns we know for at least a while longer.